'The Springboks are missing plenty of players too and are vulnerable. Let's have no excuses'
The Springboks are missing plenty of players too and are vulnerable. Let’s have no excuses. This is not a game for excuses.
There’s no doubt that the players are the catalyst in terms of getting the fans involved but I’d love to see the Aviva rocking on Saturday evening.
My own experience of South Africa as a country, a people and a rugby team dates back to 2004. I had just recovered from a shoulder injury sustained at the World Cup in Australia the previous year and despite only playing a few matches for Munster made the Irish touring party. Ireland had just won the Triple Crown and the previous year had been ranked number three in the world.
There was a certain expectation that we could go well in South Africa, although I’m not sure that deep down we believed that ourselves. At the time we had a decent playing pedigree and were left in little doubt that our hosts were taking us seriously.
I was slightly apprehensive because my shoulder was still a little tight and I was going to the last place in the rugby world that you wanted to be even one per cent compromised in terms of physicality. The excitement of going there comfortably overpowered any misgivings.
We spent a few days in Cape Town before going up to Bloemfontein where we played the first Test. The most striking thing was the security issues.
There were guards at our hotel. We weren’t allowed to walk down the street after dark. We were cocooned which made the whole experience slightly surreal as we were used to going for a stroll or grabbing a cup of coffee down the town; things you took for granted.
The level of hostility on the way to the match from the local supporters was intimidating. They made cut-throat signs, shook and pelted the bus. I was convinced that there was going to be a riot and that we’d require rescuing. An image that sprung to mind was the “Welcome to Hell” banners that greeted Man United when they went to play Galatasaray.
I was on the bench and remember warming up behind the goalposts with Marcus Horan and being bombarded with fruit. To this day I don’t know what possessed me to pick up an orange and try to take the head off a guy who had thrown it at me. The look of horror on Marcus’s face said it all. It wasn’t my brightest idea. They enjoyed intimidating the Paddies.
We were beaten 37-11, having been level at half-time. The following week in Cape Town was a much calmer environment. Still on the 10-minute walk from the hotel to the gym I was struck by how security was a massive issue in day to day lives: the houses with their huge walls, razor wire, security gates and Alsatians.